The cross-section of contemporary dance and performance art

In conversation with Oran Leong concerning POST-DANCE Dublin.

Coming off the heels of Post-Dance, a performance and lecture researched and commissioned by Sara Muthi at the Project Arts Centre on August 15th – curator Sara Muthi sits down with dance artist Oran Leong to reflect on the cross-section of contemporary dance and performance art in Dublin following his Post-Dance performance commission.

Oran Leong Post-Dance at Project Arts Centre, Dublin. Aug 2019. Photography by Kristian Mantalvanos.


SM: What is your take on contemporary dance in terms of the wider visual arts context? Where are those lines drawn for you?

OL: Contemporary dance is really broad. It’s everything from stage production, to outdoor performances, to performances in a gallery – but such creations are not obviously called performance art by their dance-makers. I think with anything that is contemporary the lines are always blurred – but there are still going to be specific parameters which you create and demonstrate for a cohesive work. If there wasn’t, there would be a mish-mash of anything and everything goes. That’s where I appreciate people’s frustration at contemporary art. People like to know what they see as it helps in their understanding. But where can one begin to understand when perhaps his or her first conscious engagement with art is the accumulation of many styles and philosophies?

SM: Do you think there’s enough of cross-pollination happening between dance artists and visual artists?

OL: I think even from Post-Dance being in Dublin that’s an example of it happening in a very strong sense, there’s always a merging, always a blend. Even in contemporary dance there are collaborations happening all the time with visual artists or what happened between Aoife Kavanagh (composer) and myself. There can always be more cross-pollination. If there wasn’t we wouldn’t still be growing and developing, and finding new things to make interesting, innovative art.

SM: Do you think there’s a purpose of cross-pollinating contemporary dance and visual art? It is also true that not everything needs to overlap. As far as I know there’s no one talking about the cross-pollination between ceramics and performance art, for example. Is there a more productive element in considering dance and visual arts?

OL: People can have the same idea about something but a painter would absolutely approach it from a different place to what I would as a mover. We’re still answering the same question – or attempting to discover the root to a question or concept and produce two very different things.

SM: So you’re saying cross-pollinating media gives us new tools to explore concepts?

OL: Yes, but really, it’s also nice to be able to communicate with someone that isn’t always talking about dance! If I’m saying something dancy to a visual artist and they’re seeing it fresh for the first time – that interaction can stimulate a different pathway in the brain and enable it to create something that’s new.

SM: So that’s where the value is injected for you – in different vocabularies of production.

OL: Exactly. There’s also a monetary purpose.  I’ve found funding bodies often encourage and look for collaboration in working productively with people from other disciplines.

SM: To bring this into Post-Dance. You as a dancer, since you’ve been more aware of this new terminology, what tools does that give you in developing your practice?

OL: I thought you were going to ask that and in a regular interview I’d be very prepared with bullet points. However, in the essence of Post-Dance I’m just going to speak off the cuff. I think Post-Dance is accepting the now of whatever that is – without the influence or stereotype or bias of other dance styles or other voices coming in and inhibiting what you bring to the floor. When I was asked to make work previously – I thought: what is the aesthetic of the choreographer who is asking this of me? And how do I comply to that aesthetic? You, being a curator – I felt there was less of an expectation. Also, Post-Dance was quite freeing to be able to accept whatever it was and say that this is true once I feel it’s authentic and real. So initially I was thinking Post-Dance… Post-Modernism? And I was trying to turn away from post-modern ideas in my mind’s eye and being cautious not to be too post-modern-ish. Almost immediately I back-peddled on that because this is something else. Post-modernism is infusing with what I am doing right now to not be post-modern, but if it happens that it comes off as such those are my own gremlins that I have to deal with – not what Post-Dance is: because Post-Dance is a vessel that you can fill. And there might be a combination of things that are very performance art, very post-modern, very balletic, whatever – throw in a bag of chips if you want. That became quite liberating and enabled me to move without inhibition. That has actually been a problem of mine as an artist. To then say, this is a canvas, and whatever you draw on this is going to be right. There is no right or wrong. Even as a creative task, it allowed me to find things I don’t think I could have found any other way had I been doing it in a dance setting. Since that time that we created the Post-Dance commission I’m looking at movement differently.

SM: Really?

OL: Absolutely. I’m challenging my own doubts of “why can’t I do this? Cause in Post-Dance I’d be allowed to do this”. It’s helped me to grow as a dance artist but also as a mover – someone who does things with time and space.

SM: That’s very satisfying for a curator to hear. Lastly, now that you’ve been integrated into concepts of Post-Dance and performance art, do you think you’ll have those frames of reference continue?

OL: I think so – I definitely draw on all my previous experiences.

SM: Do you think contemporary dancers would benefit to being introduced to performance art practices?

OL: I think it depends on the stage of the dancer – they need to have a thirst for it. There’s no point in putting something on them that they don’t want. They might not have exhausted everything within dance for them to move into performance art. They might become confused in their own artistic voice of what is it that they want to say. If a dancer is curious about an expression outside of dance, I think performance art is a good place to start. It’s not so far removed from the physicality of what it is dancers already do. Any experience can be utilised or rejected. In my case it’s something that I’ve definitely benefited from as an artist and human being.

Post-dance is the second performance event researched and developed by Sara Muthi. As opposed to publishing text as the result of her research Sara prefers to forefront the questions, shortcomings and potential surrounding live-art practices in the Ireland through performance and open dialogue. By way of commissioning live-art in collaboration with visual artists, dancers and musicians in conjunction with institutions and venues across Dublin, Sara aims to re-examine the often preconceived ontology surrounding performance practice. With one eye on the developments of performance practices internationally, particularly in Europe, it is through vigorous research, collaboration and an element of education that Sara develops her research based events.

POST-DANCE was researched and curated by Sara Muthi, performed by Oran Leong, composition by Aoife Kavanagh followed by a lecture by Amanda Øiestad Nilsen at the Project Arts Centre, Dublin on August 15th. Photography and videography by Kristian Mantalvanos.